I wanted to honor World Mental Health Day in October, but in our house and I am sure in many of yours, we need to honor mental health EVERYDAY. The past year has been really tough for me and for many people I know and love.
I am incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful husband and three amazing kids with whom I share my life. We are truly grateful for what we have. I felt compelled to write something about a recent conversation I had with my son.
My son struggles with his mental health
First, some background; my son struggles and he really struggled last year. In just recently found out that he has struggled ever since he entered a new school in his freshman year of high school. He didn’t know anyone, had trouble finding new friends who understood him and was quite lonely.
We didn’t know it because he always seemed happy at home. He never once let on that he was sad. But, during his junior year in high school, he changed. He transformed from my happy, always smiling little boy into a man who rarely smiled.
He was going through something he couldn’t explain to me. He didn’t seem to care about anything, disliked everything he used to like except video games, and spent a lot of time in his room alone. When he finally asked to speak to someone, we found him a psychologist but just as was beginning to feel comfortable with her, she left the practice. We found him another therapist but he didn’t connect with her.
When we found out he intended to hurt himself, we took immediate action
We finally found a psychologist that my son connected with and a psychiatrist to diagnose him. It turned out, he was suffering from depression, anxiety and Intrusive Thought OCD. The medications we tried only seemed to make it worse. They made him angry and unhappy. Our son devised a plan to hurt himself. When he revealed this to me at 9 on a Sunday night, I drove him directly to the emergency room and at 3 in the morning agreed with the attending psychiatrist that we had to take him to an in-patient hospital where he could be safe.
I was hysterical, my husband was home with our girls and I felt so alone. It felt wrong to commit my beautiful son while he looked at me with such hatred in his eyes. This was not his choice, he should have had a choice and I did not let him have the choice. There he took a test to discover which medications work best with his own DNA and I wish we had done that prior to putting him on medications that just didn’t work with his chemistry. Afterwards, he was in an outpatient program for 2 months. When he told us that he felt like he wanted to hurt himself again we put him back into in-patient and removed all the knives in the house.
Thankfully, he is now on the right medication, but he works hard EVERY SINGLE day of his life to appreciate and love himself. Still he still struggles; struggles against indifference; struggles to find out what is meaningful about life. Why is he even here? And his struggle began even before everything became so heightened in this world: a pandemic, change, social injustice, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, vitriol, and divisiveness. These issues were not the catalysts for his feelings.
As a teen I never even considered asking existential questions
As a teenager I never even considered asking the question, “Why am I even here?” I never thought about it. I am here because I am. Whether I was put me here to make a difference in someone’s life, to experience joy and happiness, to become successful and feel proud about it, to give me another chance at having a great life because maybe my previous life wasn’t. Whatever the reasons are, it never, ever even crossed my mind to ask that kind of question.
My teenage son, and I am certain not just mine, thinks differently. He has close friends who are like brothers and a loving family. He wants for nothing and has found a passion for art and rap. Yet he wonders,
What is the point? What is the point of feeling joy or pain? What is the point of making a difference in someone’s life? What is the point of making a living and having money or not having money?
What I want my son to have in his life
I tried to explain how good it feels to be loved and to love, to have friends that have your back, ones that you can have fun with, explore and travel the world with, to set and reach your goals, to help others, to experience beauty, art, music and the miraculous world we live in. Even though he completely understood me, it appeared that it did not matter.
I was at loss. I want him to care, I want him to experience independence and freedom and to grow into a fine adult. I want to see him love others and do for others. I want to see people love him and do for him. I want him to enjoy this part of his life and express his feelings, joy or pain, happiness, or sadness, through his art, his word, his creativity. He deserves to feel proud and accomplished. He has so much to give and offer.
As a parent, we want to protect your children from all the crappy things in the world and protect them from pain, but you can’t. If you can teach them to manage it, work through it, learn from it, see the good in the world and strive to be the best version of themselves, then you have done a pretty good job.
I want my kids to enjoy the big and small joys of life
I want my children to find loving partners and create their own wonderful families. I want them to set goals and achieve them, to enjoy little things, fall in love, get their heart broken, smell the ocean air, sleep in, get up early and see a sunrise, act goofy, do stupid things, eat a ton of the best french fries and not feel guilty. I want them to make the best of whatever life throws at them.
I NEED them to know, they will ALWAYS have me in their corner. I won’t have all the answers but I will ALWAYS be here to listen, to guide them through the confusion, and pain, share their joy and pride and anything else they are feeling.
We all want to give up sometimes. I can’t even imagine being a teenager now, things are much more complicated. I get that some days life has no obvious meaning. Even though I never once asked the question, “Why am I here,” maybe now I have the answer.
Maybe I am here to encourage and guide my children and to show them when they cannot see it for themselves that they are MEANINGFUL, that they matter to me and to so many others. I am here to help them understand they have a long life to live in a wonderful, unpredictable amazing world where they will find a way make a difference.
They have to and I trust that they will.
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